40 Faux Pas NOT to Make When You Travel
When traveling abroad, many travelers forget that actions that might be acceptable at home are actually big faux pas in other countries.
Understanding different cultures can help you avoid looking like the stereotypical tourist when on the road and even prevent you from offending someone. In some countries, something as seemingly innocent as a simple hand gesture could be enough to warrant arrest, fines or — at the very least — dirty looks.
Here's what you shouldn't do when you travel.
DON'T: Give a Thumbs Up
Giving the thumbs up in the United States may have positive connotations, but in the Middle East and Greece, it's a vulgar gesture meaning, essentially, "Up yours."
No wonder Gayle Cotton, author of "Say Anything to Anyone Anywhere: 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication," wrote in "The Huffington Post," "When it comes to body language gestures, the wisest advice might be to keep your fingers to yourself!"
DON'T: Wear Clothes in a Spa
When taking a steam bath or enjoying a sauna in Turkey or Scandinavian countries such as Norway, don't wear a swimsuit, undies or a robe. They will find you a prude.
In these countries, a sauna is meant to cleanse and purify, and should be done fully in the nude. You can enter in a towel, but should remove it and use it only as cover when you stand. If you are too shy, skip the sauna.
In Finland, it is also considered rude to talk while in a sauna. Shhh!
DON'T: Eat With Your Left Hand
Even if you are a lefty, use your right hand to eat in India and the Middle East. The left hand is considered unclean, as it is the hand one uses to clean unmentionable body parts.
It's also considered bad luck to pour a drink using your left hand when in Latin America.
DON'T: Make a Come-Hither Motion
Using your index finger to ask someone to come to you is offensive to people in many Asian countries, where it is only used to beckon dogs. In Singapore, the gesture actually symbolizes death. And there are reports of people being arrested in the Philippines for using the gesture.
If you want to have someone come to you, raise your hand, palm out, and wave your fingers down instead. This is also how it is done in Greece.
DON'T: Rock On
Ready to rock out? Don't use the horns hand gesture in Spain, Italy or Greece. These countries use the gesture to symbolize a bull's horns, which suggests a man's wife is cheating on him.
Use this incorrectly, and you could play a role in some serious relationship distress.
DON'T: Clean Your Plate
When we enjoy a great meal, we want to savor every bite. However, in China, Russia, Thailand and the Philippines, if you eat everything on your plate, it means you are still hungry and were not given enough food. Leave a bite or two, no matter how good it is.
Then again, in India and Japan, if you don't clean your plate, you are being very rude.
Best to brush up on the etiquette for this one depending on where you're going!
DON'T: Blow Your Nose in Public
It's offensive to blow your nose in public in China, Japan, France and Saudi Arabia. You are instead expected to step into a restroom to relieve your nose (and wash your hands), especially while dining.
Which, come to think of it, makes a lot of sense.
DON'T: Be Bare in Holy Places
In many countries, exposing your shoulders or legs when visiting a holy place will offend the locals and get you barred from entry.
In Italy and Israel, women will need to cover their shoulders at religious sites, while men may be asked to cover their heads.
When visiting Buddhist temples in Asia, shorts or skirts should cover the knees. Same goes in Spain during holy days, such as Easter.
In Muslim countries, it is recommended that women wear loose-fitting clothing and cover their arms, legs and chest everywhere they travel.
DON'T: Make a Peace Sign
What Americans call the peace sign is actually the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger in some countries.
If your palm faces inward while making a peace sign in the United Kingdom, Australia or South Africa, you're giving the wrong signal (the very opposite of "peace"). And, if you hold your fingers up with your palms inward to order two drinks at a crowded bar in these countries, you won't get any service.
DON'T: Eat with a Fork
In Thailand, it's considered impolite to eat with a fork. For Thais, forks are tools to manipulate food, much like knives are in the U.S. You wouldn't take a bite using a knife (which Thais don't use), and you shouldn't take a bite using a fork. Instead, scoop the food with your hand or a spoon. (And no, chopsticks aren't the norm in Thailand.)
When you throw back your head and laugh with your mouth open, you are clearly having a great time. But in Japan, they feel only horses should make this gesture, and it is considered impolite. Keep your laughs to a chuckle and cover your mouth.
DON'T: Show Bare Feet
As the lowest and dirtiest part of the body, feet are viewed as a sign of disrespect in Arab, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu countries. If you are barefoot — or wearing shoes where the soles of your feet could be visible when you cross your legs (think flip-flops or open-backed shoes) — keep your feet on the ground.
DON'T: Cross Your Fingers
What is considered fingers-crossed for good luck in America is considered a very obscene gesture in Vietnam. To the Vietnamese, the symbol represents women's genitalia.
DON'T: Sit in the Back
We may be used to climbing into the back of a taxi, but in the Netherlands, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand, they actually want you to hop in the front for the ride. To sit in the back is elitist.
In Japan, you shouldn't open your own door, either. The driver will open and close it for you.
DON'T: Be Greedy With Wine
If you would like more wine in France, never refill your glass without first offering more to the rest of your table — it's just plain rude.
In South Korea, if you'd like a refill, your glass should first be empty.
DON'T: Tip a Server
American servers work for tips, but in most countries, such as France, servers are paid good wages and no tip is required. (Although they won't turn one down!)
In countries like Japan and South Korea, however, they find it especially offensive when you leave a tip, as it suggests they don't earn enough money.
DON'T: Make an OK Sign
The signal for "okay" in the U.S. has different meanings in other countries. In Brazil, it's the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger (in the 1950s, Nixon faced backlash when he used this gesture while stepping off a plane in Brazil). In some parts of the Middle East, it symbolizes the "evil eye."
In other countries, it may not be vulgar, but it has a different meaning. In France, the thumbs-up translates into "zero" or "worthless," while in Japan, it means "money."
DON'T: Keep Your Hands in Your Pocket
Having your hands in your pockets symbolizes arrogance in Japan and North and South Korea. It's also deemed disrespectful when standing before a monument or place of importance.
DON'T: Raise Your Hand
Raising your hand, palm out, with your fingers spread means you are extremely upset with something if you are in Greece, the Middle East, Africa and Mexico.
So don't "talk to the hand" in these countries (come to think of it, don't do that anywhere; it's rude). If you are trying to get a server's attention, try just a finger instead.
DON'T: Refuse Food or Drink
To refuse food offered to you by anyone in the Middle East is considered very rude. Even if they are offering you a sheep's head with an eyeball, this is a delicacy and one you simply must try to be polite. (And don't forget that they might find some American food odd, as it's all relative.)
In Russia, if you are offered vodka, take it. Being offered a drink is a sign of trust and if you don't accept it, you will be seen as untrustworthy. Similarly, in Argentina, is you are offered the tea-like mate, it is a sign of friendship. A refusal tells the person you are not their friend.
DON'T: Eat or Drink on the Train
It is considered rude to eat or drink on public transportation in Japan. No one wants to smell your breakfast or lunch anyways.
DON'T: Say You're American
When in South America, say you are from the United States if that's your home. Calling yourself an American implies South Americans are not Americans. (Which, of course, they are.)
DON'T: Drink Cappuccino at Night
Want to be seen as a tourist? Then order a cappuccino after 11 a.m. in Italy. Italians see it as a breakfast drink, and certainly would never order one at night.
DON'T: Chew Gum in Singapore
Gum is outlawed in Singapore — people there are not allowed to buy or sell it. Don't smuggle in your own gum and be caught chewing it, as you could pay a hefty fine. Plus, this would show a lack of respect for the Singaporean law.
DON'T: Look Away During a Toast
When you raise your glass in Germany or Switzerland, clink your glass with every person at the table while making eye contact. If you don't lock eyes as you say "prost," you could have seven years of bad luck!
DON'T: Arrive on Time
In some Latin American nations and Mexico, arriving on time is a no-no. If a party is said to start at 8 p.m., don't arrive before 9 p.m., as it is expected and definitely fashionable to be late.
DON'T: Say 'Hi' Casually
You may have heard the stereotype that the French are rude, but actually, it's typically the foreigner who is rude by not beginning an encounter with "Bonjour," the formal "hello." This applies to strangers in an elevator or a nod when passing someone with whom you make eye contact.
DON'T: Write in Red
The color red is associated with death in Korea, and when a family member passes, the name is written in a register with red ink. If you write a person's name in red ink, you're wishing them to be dead.
DON'T: Shake Your Head 'No' in Bulgaria
When you don't speak the language, a universal head shake side to side to mean "no" and up and down to mean "yes" seems easy enough. But in Bulgaria, they do it in reverse. If you shake your head "no," you're saying "yes."
DON'T: Refer to Ireland as Part of the U.K.
No, Ireland is not a country in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is, and it's a separate country. The people fought hard for their freedom and get pretty irked if you don't recognize that fact.
While you're at it, a "paddy" is an Irish person. So, when you abbreviate St. Patrick's Day, it should be spelled as St. Patty's Day, not St. Paddy's Day.
DON'T: Wear Shoes Indoors
Shoes are not to be worn in sacred places in China, especially in temples, so remove your shoes before you enter. (This is common in Malaysia and Thailand as well.)
This is also the polite thing to do upon entering one's home in China, Japan and other Asian countries, too.
DON'T: Shake Hands
It's not just for your yoga class — placing your palms together and saying "Namaste" is the proper greeting in Nepal.
DON'T: Drink Alcohol in the Middle East
Many Muslim countries frown upon drinking and some have outright banned it, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sudan and Yemen as well as Somalia and Mauritania.
DON'T: Talk Loudly on a Train
In confined spaces like a train, loud conversations are a faux pas in Japan. There are many countries, actually, where conversations are hushed on trains, including the United Kingdom.
DON'T: Show Affection in Public
Public displays of affection in Muslim countries are frowned upon, especially in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates where you can be arrested for holding hands or kissing in public.
DON'T: Give a Dozen Roses
Be sure any bouquet you present to a loved one consists of an odd number of flowers. Even numbers are used only for funerals.
In Germany and France, avoid yellow flowers for a woman, as it implies her husband is having an affair.
DON'T: Let the Wine Stop Flowing
In Russia, it is considered vulgar for a woman to pour herself a glass of wine or alcohol. If you notice a woman's glass is empty, gentlemen will refill the glass before she has to ask.
DON'T: Play Duck, Duck, Goose
In Thailand, the Buddist community believes the head is the body's most sacred part of the body. To touch someone's head is a sacred act and should not be done, even to pat a cute child on the head.
DON'T: Leave a Room First
The elderly are well-respected in Asia and, as such, have the honor of exiting and entering a room first. If you are not the oldest person near a door, stand back.
DON'T: Take Photos Without Permission
Just because a culture is different from your own doesn't mean you should snap photographs of its people. Native Americans, for example, feel photographs can capture souls. The Amish believe photographs are immodest. In Amsterdam, photographing people in the windows of the Red Light District is extremely rude.
In other words: Always ask for permission for taking a photo.